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Chosen One: Dan Deacon

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‘America’, the new album from Baltimore’s Dan Deacon, is undeniably one of the best albums of 2012. The Baltimore one-man-orchestra has created his strongest body of work to date, surpassing his previous output.

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

‘America’ is a change in direction for Deacon. Where once relying so heavily on creating primarily synthetic music, ‘America’ finds Deacon using both acoustic and synthetic, in turn creating Deacon’s first rock record. In the words of Dan Deacon, the inspiration of ‘America’ comes from his “love of cross-country travel, seeing the landscapes of the United States, going from East to West and back again over the course of seasons”. The lyrics are inspired by his strong feelings towards his country: “The lyrics are inspired by my frustration, fear and anger towards the country and world I live in and am part of”. ‘America’ isn’t a political record. It’s in fact an album embedded in emotion and its expansive beauty is one to behold. The album  is split into two parts, that is more apparent when listening to ‘America’ on vinyl. Part A comprises of pop songs, where prog, punk, electronica, classical and pop effortlessly fuse together. Part B is a cinematic twenty-one minute piece entitled ‘USA’, broken into four parts. The result is an album of undeniable genius from a prolific artist at the height of his powers.

The instrumental ‘Guilford Avenue Bridge’ opens ‘America’ with its pulsing electronics and beats. A gorgeous layer of guitar slowly appears adding ambient touchstones. The piece acts as the album’s prologue, showcasing Deacon’s anger towards America. Next up is the electronic pop gem, ‘True Thrush’. This song is as good as The Flaming Lips circa ‘The Soft Bulletin’. Lush production and intricate arrangements and layers of backing harmonies creates an irresistible pop symphony of sound. Deacon sings, ‘Please sing me a song/Sing of days gone by/Before I went wrong’ on the song’s verse. An openness and fear can be felt throughout, ‘Hey there old soul/I’m lost and alone/No head to hold high/But my feet keep on going/Spread those wings wide.” The song closes with a delicate woodwind and brass sound. The third track ‘Lots’ is a punk rock opus. ‘Lots’ serves as ‘America”s anthem. The infectious quality and its sheer ferocity is akin to ‘Raw Power’ era The Stooges. Deacon roars with emotion, ‘Regret/No past/No sense/Brave days/Ahead/None rest/None yet/One choice to make/Get ready to go.’ ‘Prettyboy’ changes the dynamic and mood. ‘Prettyboy’ is an odyssey of dreams and heavenly bliss. Gorgeously orchestrated strings, woodwind and brass are woven beneath melodic piano and guiding drum beats. The ambient soundscape thus created is akin to Neu! such is the track’s euphoric depth. This is the perfect soundtrack to ‘Moon’ or ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’. Sublime soundtrack music. ‘Crash Jam’ is a charged psych pop jam in the vein of John Maus or Grandaddy. Deacon sings a love song beneath the swirling bass and electronics, ‘Melt down beside me/I melt beside you/Always I melt with you’. ‘Crash Jam’ is the perfect climax to Part A of ‘America’ with a psychedelic finale a la E.L.O at their best. Interestingly, the best of the album comes in Part B, flip over the vinyl!

‘America’ is divided into four parts: i Is A Monster, ii The Great American Desert, iii Rail and iv Manifest. The first part ‘Is A Monster’ is the centrepiece to ‘America’. The song has got it all. Film score strings and breathtaking woodwind, brass makes up the epic intro. The arrangement is divine. The piece reminds me of the main theme to ‘Man on Wire’ and transports me to Philippe Petit’s high wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Centre. The music score is similar to the wonderful Michael Nyman score that created the perfect backdrop to Petit’s awe inspiring journey. Two minutes into ‘Is A Monster’, synths, electronics and drums explode over hypnotic pulses of synthetic rhythms. Deacon sings a mantra, ‘Nothing lives long/Only the earth and the mountains/Feel like I’m all flesh and no bone/I’m not the shapes that I’m shown’ adding darkness to the light of hope. ‘The dark part of dreams’ are explored on the following ‘The Great American Desert’ with heavy reverb and glorious pulses of sound, ‘I see hillsides/Burning in flames/Everything’s gray/Nothing remains of/Places I Loved.’ The outro consists of a plethora of percussion and woodwind (bassoon, clarinets) creating Steve Reichesque rhythmic pulses. This perfectly leads the way into ”Rail’, a beautiful piece of music that encapsulates Deacon’s journey across America from east to west, and back again over the seasons. The instrumentation of violin, viola, cellos, clarinet, bassoon, flute, french horn and trumpet distills a haven of classical music that is a feast for the senses. Think Sufjan Stevens combined with Nico Muhly and you’re halfway there. Drums arrive five minutes later,resulting in a joyous symphony to serve as a fitting finale. ‘Manifest’ is the final of the four pieces and closes the ‘USA’ piece and the album. ‘Manifest’ acts as the sister to ‘Is A Monster’ where the first piece is revisited. The euphoria flows out from the music. ‘The times are racing/Now I’m just glad I spent them with you’ is my favourite lyric from Deacon. The song ends in a crescendo of otherworldly noise amidst film score strings. It’s the climax to a very ambitious and rewarding album that fulfills Dan Deacon’s promise, and of more to come.

‘America’ is out now on Domino.

Written by admin

October 18, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Posted in CHOSEN ONE

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